It’s really important to know what your competition is doing in today’s crowded market. They can help you enhance your marketing and business development efforts. Your competitors give you inside information that can help you do your job better, stay relevant, refine strategy, innovate and lead the market. Some call this competitive intelligence – I say it’s just being smart and client-centric. These types of actions should be woven into your marketing and business development strategy.

There’s so much publicly available information out there – for starters you should make a list of which firms you want to track. Remember that competitors come in all shapes and sizes. They don’t necessarily need to be the same size as your firm or of the same prestige. 

Remember that competitors come in all shapes and sizes. They don’t necessarily need to be the same size as your firm or of the same prestige. Very often your competitors could be at a boutique firm while you’re at a large firm. Beware of the midsize and small boutique firms that are creeping up on market share if you are at a large firm and vice versa. Competitors are everywhere.

Then set up Google searches (for various firms and top people at those organizations). I don’t necessarily believe that clients hire the law firm anymore. While it certainly doesn’t hurt to have a prestigious name on the door, in today’s economic climate often value supersedes prestige. And even more important than that, is that most clients hire the lawyer not the firm. So that’s why it is so important for lawyers to make sure they have strong relationships with their clients, and why you should track the activities of individual lawyer competitors in addition to the law firm for which they work. Regularly review their website and social media profiles to see what they’re writing and speaking about as well as their news releases and lateral hires (to give you a better idea of their practice focuses). It’s also smart to look at any lawyer departures to see where they may have weaknesses.

It is important to know what you are up against and where you can differentiate yourself. There’s also so much information available online. You can’t even see which conferences a firm is sponsoring, which will give you a lot of valuable information about what you should consider investing in (remember, it’s not always a good idea to sponsor the same conference as your competitors – I’d prefer to be the only law firm rather than one of many firms sponsoring an event).

Odds are, your social media audience overlaps with that of your competitors. So it’s worth checking out what they’re doing so you can benefit from the lessons they’ve already learned. Are they reaching segments you hadn’t thought to consider? How are they positioning themselves? Are they using Instagram effectively? Twitter? Are they ignoring LinkedIn?

If you find that your competitors aren’t doing much online or seem quiet in general with regards to their marketing efforts, don’t take that as an excuse to continue to be lazy about your own online presence, especially when it comes to content generation. You have an opportunity to lead the field and make everyone else catch up to you.

I’m often asked if it’s worth writing blog posts and alerts on similar topics as your competitors. The answer is YES. Because your clients care what you have to say on the topic and they are very unlikely following all of those other firms too.

I always say that the best way to reach clients and prospects is with a combination of targeted email marketing and social media. This way you have a greater chance of directly reaching your target audience (email is the best way to reach people directly if your CRM lists are up to date).

For the most part, clients aren’t going to open emails from firms with which they aren’t currently working. And they certainly aren’t subscribing to the mailing lists of many different law firms. I also don’t believe that they’re following the social media accounts of many different law firms either. This gives you an opportunity to take a look at what they’re doing and then do it better. Or so something totally different and innovative!

I regularly report back this kind of competitive intelligence to my clients so they are aware of what their competition is doing – information is always power.

I also find that in the legal industry, some competitive intelligence helps to inspire lawyers – and tug a bit at their competitive spirit – when I show them what other firms and lawyers are doing marketing wise. There’s no greater motivator than to see your direct competitor’s name in the news. Try it too.